Tim Youd: A Faulkner type

by Lanie Anderson

Tim Youd is headed back to his home in Los Angeles, California, today after a two-week endeavor to type William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury” at Rowan Oak in Oxford.

From June 2 to June 12, the sound of typewriter strokes filled the rooms of Rowan Oak as Youd – a performance artist undertaking the retyping of 100 novels in five years – retyped the novel, pausing to speak with visitors at Faulkner’s former home. “That’s the real deal,” one passerby said to Youd, referring to the sound of the Underwood Universal, the same typewriter model that Faulkner used when writing his novels at Rowan Oak.

Amelia Brock, intern at Rowan Oak and a University of Mississippi graduate student from Auburn, Alabama, said that Youd’s presence at Rowan Oak has been refreshing. “It adds a good ambience for the house,” Brock said. “The sound of a typewriter hasn’t been echoing through the halls since Faulkner was here, and (Youd) will (also) stop and answer questions when people come through.”
Youd’s venture to type 100 novels came from his interest in various “100 novels” lists – for example, “100 Greatest Novels” or “100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century”. “I think that idea of 100 novels is something that conceptually resonates with people,” Youd said.

“The Sound and the Fury” is Youd’s 25th novel to retype, and, while Youd admitted that the other 75 novels are a “working list”, it was inevitable that one or more of Faulkner’s novels would make the cut. “When I started the project,” Youd said, “the idea of making sure that I typed at least one Faulkner novel – hopefully, I’ll do a couple more – was elemental to the project.”

Although his third time through “The Sound and the Fury,” Youd still made new discoveries about Faulkner’s writing while retyping the novel. “I’ve long enjoyed (Faulkner’s) work,” Youd said. “Sitting here and actively reading it the way I am has been really insightful. I’ve appreciated the poetry in his language and the subtlety of his structure more than I ever have.”

Youd said that he has also enjoyed his time at Faulkner’s home. “I think Rowan Oak really does feel like hallowed ground,” Youd said, “and I’m sure that’s not the first time it’s been called that. I (also) like that it’s not commercialized. There isn’t a lobby shop or a bookstore, and they’re not selling shirts and coffee mugs. That lends something to the location.”

Youd said that he keeps an open mind when it comes to what his audiences gain from his performances. “I don’t have a specific goal in mind for someone who might come across me doing my thing,” Youd said. “I’m always happy to talk – that’s how I conceive my performances. I am willing to stop and talk with people who have questions. They don’t have to like it. They can tell me I’m nuts or that they don’t understand it, and that’s okay. Some people might get a lot more out of it than others. I’m open to any of those (responses).”

Youd’s next stop is the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego where there is a solo show of Youd’s completed diptychs from the first year of his cycle. In July, Youd will also retype two of Raymond Chandler’s novels at the museum.

Above all, Youd will be remembered at Rowan Oak for his dedication. “[Youd’s work] gets at something about what writing really is,” Brock said. “When you commit to it like Youd does, it’s a very intense and physically draining process.”

Perhaps Youd’s performance art captures the work it took for writers like Faulkner in the past to make those “100 Greatest Novels” lists people enjoy today.

About Jon Rawl

Publisher of the Oxford Citizen, a Journal Inc. company.